Bear Jokes in Leyton, East London | Gig review by Steve Bennett

Bear Jokes in Leyton, East London

Gig review by Steve Bennett

In a small, cosy room above an East London pub, Bear Jokes is a stepping-stone gig, a level above the start-out shows with a gazillion acts all encouraged to bring their mates. There are real punters here, albeit in the single figures tonight, and some more experienced acts on the bill. And although it’s a slightly hit-and-miss line-up, the night is certainly fine entertainment for a pay-what-you-want gig.

Andy Quirk is the regular host, compering the first half entirely via rap. He won’t be winning prizes for originality of inspiration with rhymes about airport security and automatic supermarket checkout, but he delivers with infectious enthusiasm, getting us all to clap along and engage in the usual call-and-response. It’s a very effective warm-up, demolishing any walls of self-consciousness among such an intimate crowd – and he’s even got a backing dancer with moody sass to help build the atmosphere. 

Of the newer acts, Vivienne Kay has plenty to say about her preternaturally high pitched voice – think Joe Pasquale on helium – although stories about her work awaydays seem overly practised and too specific to her. She has a winning, slightly vulnerable persona but the dot-to-dot writing leaves too little to surprise.

Half Pakistani, half-Greek, Adam Coumas is a more domineering presence, with a taut, muscular delivery, although his material plays things safe, bemoaning what a shithole his native Croydon is or noting that plate-smashing at Greek weddings is a lot less prevalent since the financial crisis; while a callback sign-off is more contrived than funny.

Closing the first half is Sadia Azmat, who has been around a few years and here offers a wonderfully subversive routine, upending expectations of what a Muslim woman in a headscarf is going to talk about. Forget concerns about social marginalisation, all she wants is sex – a gleeful line in filth contrasting with her butter-wouldn’t-melt demeanour. It’s not quite all about her drought in the bedroom: her bigamist of a father offers further comic grist in a disarmingly affable routine that’s effortlessly relatable, even if the specifics are unique to her. A strong act.

Another tried-and-tested comic opens part two with a  bang. Lenny Sherman is the real-life counterpart of Al Murray’s Pub Landlord character - a big, bold, baldie full of straight-talking working-class opinion, flirting with the audience’s assumption he’s going to be knuckle-headed racist, but playfully undermining that image with more silliness than satire. It’s a power-packed performance jammed full of gags – a real blast.

The high energy continued with  Lew Fitz, a fizzing bundle of confused camp. Material takes a back seat to that thoroughly engaging delivery, but his writing is as nimble and vibrant as he is. As a newcomer, he’s ticking lots of boxes.

Finally headliner Nathan Cassidy, such a safe pair of hands that he does the audience warm-up for the X Factor.  His stand-up is a much tricksier affair than you would expect from such a mainstream job, however, and here he ambitiously suggests he might  have been responsible for the 2008 financial crash – using the same ‘what if’ logic that underpinned OJ Simpson’s If I Did It book about his wife’s murder. The credibility of his core mea culpa may be debatable, but there’s a smart mischief to the wider material, while his piercingly sarcastic jibes at better-paid entertainers have a touch of the Stewart Lee to them. 

Review date: 6 Oct 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leyton Star

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